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Bloomsday – Where It All Begins

June 16th is unique in literature in that it actually has a day named after it. Now known the world over as Bloomsday, it  is named after the main character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses. And the date was deliberately chosen by the author as it was on this day in 1904 that he and Nora Barnacle, his future lover and wife, went on their first date. By the following October she would leave Dublin and accompany him to France, where they struggled for many years until his eventual breakthrough and international recognition.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - where it all began

Martello Tower, Sandycove – where it all begins

Joyce had stayed in the Martello Tower, in Sandycove, with his friend Oliver St Gogarty (who had rented the building) for a short time before leaving hurriedly after a gun was fired late one night. However, he chose to set the opening scene of his book in the building and Gogarty (as Buck Mulligan) is immortalised in the first line:

Stately, plumb Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

A view north from the roof

A view north, to Dublin city, from the roof

The tower was one of many erected along the coast in preparation for an invasion by Napoleon’s forces. However, after Admiral Horatio Nelson (he of Nelson’s Pillar fame) defeated the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, the threat was extinguished. Many of the towers were subsequently sold off while others were left unattended and remain derelict to this day. The tower at Sandycove was maintained in good condition when Gogarty rented it in the early summer of 1904. Today, it houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum which is a ‘must-see’ for all Joycean fans and those interested in literary history. There is a fabulous collection of items, including; an original copy of Ulysses, many of Joyce’s notebooks and a vinyl recording of his voice! Up the narrow stairs the space has been remodelled with table, chairs and various contemporaneous items showing the living space as Gogarty and Joyce would have known it. Outside, there is Joyce’s death mask  and a guitar that he was fond of playing. Up the last flight of steps to the roof (from the stairhead..) you have the wonderful panorama of Dublin Bay, the coast northwards to Dublin City, leading you around to the mountains to the south-west. On a clear day it is spectacular and, not surprisingly, very popular with photographers.

Main Room - 1904 style

Main Room – 1904 style

Celebrating Bloomsday has become big business and events are now held in many cities around the world that have Joyce’s works to an ever increasing audience. However, the first Bloomsday celebrations on it’s 50th anniversary in 1954 (see short silent clip below) were rather prosaic by today’s standards, and involved a number of Dublin’s literati and two horse-drawn carriages.

The group: John Ryan (owner of The Bailey pub and founder of Envoy art magazine), Flann O’Brien, Anthony Cronin, Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Joyce (a cousin) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College) had planned a ‘pilgrimage’ along the circuitous route set out in the book. However, after a number of stops for ‘refreshments’ the adventure was abandoned due to ‘inebriation and rancour’ and they retired wistfully to The Bailey (on Duke Street).

Bloomsday's first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO'B, PK, TJ

Bloomsday’s first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO’B, PK, TJ

You may very well see some horse-drawn carriages on the big day but as to whether they will be ferrying such an illustrious group, well, I guess that you will just have to wait and see – and then you may have an interesting story to tell.  Happy Bloomsday!

 

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Oliver St. John Gogarty – A man of many talents

5, Rutland Square

5, Rutland Square

Oliver St John Gogarty was a man of many talents and he was born in 5, Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) on 17th August 1878, the eldest of four children. His father, Henry, was a successful physician and his mother Margaret was from Galway. Henry died when Oliver was eight years old and he was sent to school in Mungret College in Limerick. later, he transferred to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire which he described as ‘a religious jail’. He returned to Ireland in 1896 and studied medicine at the Royal University and Trinity College, and graduated in 1907. Afterwards, he went to Vienna to finish his study and specialised in otolaryngology (Ear, Nose & Throat). His consulting rooms were in Ely Place, and he was a member of staff at the Meath Hospital until he went to America.

He was a keen sportsman and enjoyed cricket, football (he played for Bohemians FC) and a fine swimmer who saved four people from drowning. He wrote poetry and his poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. And as a member of the Dublin literary community he was friends with the great and good, including WB Yeats, AE Russell, James Stephens and James Joyce. When Gogarty rented the Martello Tower at Sandycove in 1904 he invited Joyce to stay. Joyce, however,  stayed only a few nights but used the place as the opening scene in Ulysses and immortalised Gogarty in his character Buck Mulligan.

Martello Tower, Sandycove

Martello Tower, Sandycove

A close friend of Arthur Griffith he was an early member of Sinn Fein and became a Senator. In 1922 when Griffith died in early August he performed the autopsy, and he did the same for Michael Collins who died less than two weeks later.

Oliver St. John Gogarty

Oliver St. John Gogarty

In 1917 he and his wife Martha Duane, who was from Galway, bought Renvyle, a large house in Connemara. It was burnt down in 1923 during the Irish Civil War, subsequently rebuilt and operates to this day as Renvyle House. Gogarty had been in the USA since the start of World War II, collapsed and died on a street in New York in 1957. His body was returned to Ireland and he was  buried in Moyard, near Renvyle.

 

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Royal College of Surgeons – A cut above

During the recent Heritage Week I took the opportunity of visiting ‘Surgeons’, a place that I, and many Dubliners, pass daily but never enter. The site was previously an abandoned Quaker graveyard, with the first College building erected in 1810. The beautiful Georgian building you see today is anextension of that and was finished in 1825.

William Dease

William Dease

The College dates back a little further to 11th February 1784 when it received its charter from George III, and it held its first meeting in the boardroom of the Rotunda Hospital on 2 March. Among those present on that auspicious day were the first president, Professor Samuel Croker-King, and William Dease, the first professor of surgery. It is important to note that admission was not barred on sectarian grounds, as was the custom of the time. In fact, Dease was one of a dozen Catholics to become president of the college. (Curious thing: Dease committed suicide and there are at least three different versions as to the circumstances, but nobody knows for sure. However, he cut his femoral artery, and his statue (in the Main Entrance) shows a dark line at exactly where the fatal cut may have been made!)

Sir William Wilde

Sir William Wilde

Over the years many of the college’s former students have made famous contributions to medicine, and beyond. William Wallace (1791-1837) studied dermatology in London under Thomas Bateman, and it was here that he learned about inoculation and vaccination. When he returned to Dublin he opened the first hospital in the British Isles to treat skin disease. Charles Cameron (1830-1921) was as the forefront of hygiene and public health, and was granted the Freedom of Dublin for his work. The McDonnells, father John (1796-1892) and son Robert (1828-1889) both made significant medical firsts. John is known as being the first person in Ireland to use ether as inhalation anaesthesia during the amputation of an arm in the Richmond Hospital on New Year’s Day 1847. And, on 20th April 1865 Robert preformed the first human blood transfusion in Ireland on a young girl in Dublin’s Jervis Street Infirmary. He was elected President of the College in 1877.
Sir William Wilde (father of the playwright Oscar), founded St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, and it was later amalgamated with the National Eye hospital to form the well-known Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. Oliver St John Gogarty, a surgeon renowned for his dexterity and speed, had a few more strings to his bow. He was a Free State Senator; wrote books, plays, poetry and is forever remembered as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan (a medical student!), the first character we meet in James Joyce’s Ulysses. His poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games. And there is a fine paining of him by one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Sir William Orpen, in the President’s Room.

Bullet hole

Bullet hole

During the Easter Rising the building on St Stephen’s Green was occupied by members of the Irish Citizen army, under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz. Gunfire from Crown forces based in the Shelbourne Hotel raked the building, and numerous marks can be seen on its front. One smashed into a door  in the Board Room and its mark is still there.   Volunteers stayed in place until the final order to surrender was given. A few, however, did leave a mark by carving their names into a pillar.

The College began a long period of expansion from the mid-1960s under the guidance of Harry O’Flanagan. The old Mercer Hospital was acquired and it houses a library, college archives, heritage collections and student accommodation. Other properties on York Street (opposite the College) have been acquired and are currently being re-developed. Beaumont Hospital is now the main centre for medical training, and advanced research work. And the international aspect has increased in recent years with schools in Bahrain and Malaysia. The college is recognised as a world centre of medical excellence, and there are over sixty countries represented in the current study body.

'Surgeons' - St Stephen's Green

‘Surgeons’ – St Stephen’s Green

* Sir William Wilde photo courtesy of RCSI

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